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American Assassin, Page 2

Vince Flynn

Kennedy ticked off eight additional reasons why she felt this young man was the perfect candidate. Her logic was sound, but beyond that there was the simple fact that they had to begin somewhere. By Stansfield’s reckoning this was an endeavor they should have started a good five years earlier, so it was with a heavy sigh and a leap of faith that he decided to proceed. He told Kennedy to forgo the normal training and take him to the only man they knew who was crazy enough to try to mold a green recruit into what they needed. If Rapp could survive six months of schooling at the hands of Stan Hurley, he might indeed be the weapon they were looking for. Before she left, Stansfield told her to eliminate any connection: Every last file, surveillance photo, and recording that could ever tie them to Rapp was to be destroyed.

  Kennedy pulled the car through the gate and asked Rapp to close and lock it behind them. Rapp did as he was asked and then got back in the car. One hundred yards later Kennedy slowed the vehicle to a crawl and maneuvered diagonally in an effort to avoid a large pothole.

  “Why no security on the perimeter?” Rapp asked.

  “The high-tech systems … more often than not … they draw too much unwanted attention. They also give a lot of false alarms, which in turn requires a lot of manpower. That’s not what this place is about.”

  “What about dogs?” Rapp asked.

  She liked the way he was thinking. As if on cue, two hounds came galloping around the bend. The dogs charged straight at the vehicle. Kennedy stopped and waited for them to get out of her way. A moment later, after baring their teeth, they turned and bolted back in the direction they’d just come from.

  Kennedy took her foot off the brake and proceeded up the lane. “This man,” Kennedy said. “The one who will be training you.”

  “The crazy little guy who is going to try to kill me,” Rapp said without smiling.

  “I didn’t say he was going to try to kill you … I said he is going to try to make you think he’s trying to kill you.”

  “Very comforting,” Rapp said sarcastically. “Why do you keep bringing him up?”

  “I want you to be prepared.”

  Rapp thought about that for a moment and said, “I am, or at least as prepared as you can be for something like this.”

  She considered that for a moment. “The physical part is assumed. We know you’re in good shape, and that’s important, but I want you to know that you will be pushed in ways you never imagined. It’s a game. One that’s designed to make you quit. Your greatest asset will be mental discipline, not physical strength.”

  Rapp disagreed with her but kept his mouth shut and his face a mask of neutrality. To be the best required equal doses of both. He knew the game. He’d been through plenty of grueling football and lacrosse practices in the humid August heat of Virginia, and back then it was only a simple desire to play that kept him going. Now his motivation to succeed was much deeper. Far more personal.

  “Just try to remember … none of it is personal,” Kennedy said.

  Rapp smiled inwardly. That’s where you’re wrong, he thought. It’s all personal. When he responded, however, he was compliant. “I know,” Rapp said in an easy tone. “What about these other guys?” If there was one thing that made him a little nervous it was this. The other recruits had been down here for two days. Rapp didn’t like getting a late start. They would have already begun the bonding process and were likely to resent his showing up late. He didn’t understand the delay, but she wasn’t exactly forthright with information.

  “There are six of them.” Kennedy scrolled through the photos in her mind’s eye. She had read their jackets. They all had military experience and shared, at least on paper, many of Rapp’s qualities. They were all dark-featured, athletic, capable of violence, or at least not afraid of it, and they had all to one degree or another passed the extensive psychological exams. They had all showed a facility for foreign languages. In terms of a sense of right and wrong, they all hovered near that critical six o’clock position on the mental health pie chart. That thin line that separated law enforcement officers from career criminals.

  Around the next bend the landscape opened up before them. A freshly mowed lawn roughly the size of a football field ran along both sides of the lane all the way to a white barn and two-story house with a wraparound porch. This was not what Rapp had expected. The place looked like a rural postcard complete with a set of rocking chairs on the big white porch.

  A man appeared from inside the house. He was holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Rapp watched him move across the porch. The man swiveled his head to the left and then right in a casual manner. Most people would have missed it, but Rapp’s senses had been opened to the reality that the world was divided between those who were part of the herd and those who liked to hunt. The man was checking his flanks. He stopped at the top of the porch steps and looked down at them from behind a pair of aviator sunglasses. Rapp smiled ever so slightly at the realization that this was the man who was going to try to break him. It was a challenge he had been looking forward to for some time.


  RAPP looked through the bug-splattered windshield at the ball-buster he’d been warned about. Even from across the yard he could see the displeased look on the guy’s face. He had medium-length brown hair swept to the right and a full Tom Selleck mustache. He was in a pair of faded olive shorts that were a little on the small side and a white V-neck T-shirt. As the car came to a stop Rapp noted the faded black combat boots and white tube socks that were pulled all the way up to his knees. His skin was a leathery, dark brown and all of it, even his cheeks, seemed tightly wound with muscles and tendons. Rapp wondered about the eyes that were conveniently concealed behind a pair of sunglasses. He thought about his plan, and he figured he’d find out soon enough.

  “How old is he?” Rapp asked.

  “Not sure,” Kennedy said as she put the car in park. “He’s older than he looks, though, but I wouldn’t bring it up. He doesn’t like talking about his age.” She unbuckled her seatbelt. “Wait here for a moment.”

  Kennedy exited the vehicle and walked casually across the gravel driveway. She was wearing black dress slacks and a white blouse. Due to the heat and the fact that they were more than a hundred miles from headquarters, she’d left her suit jacket in the backseat. A 9-mm Beretta pistol was on her right hip, more to avoid a tongue-lashing from the man she was about to face than from any real fear that she’d have to use it. She looked up at the man on the porch and brushed a loose strand of her auburn hair behind her ear. Stopping at the base of the porch steps she said, “Uncle Stan, you don’t look too excited to see me.”

  Stan Hurley glanced down at Kennedy and felt a twinge of guilt. This little beauty could jerk his emotions around in ways very few could. He’d known Irene longer than she’d known herself. He’d watched her grow up, bought her Christmas presents from strange exotic places, and spent more holidays with the Kennedys than without them. And then a little less than a decade ago, all the joy had drained from their lives when a delivery van packed with over two thousand pounds of explosives pulled up to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Sixty-three people perished, including Kennedy’s father. Hurley had been away screwing one of his sources and had narrowly dodged the bullet. The CIA had lost eight valuable people that April day and they had been playing catch-up ever since.

  Hurley was well aware that he had almost no control over his temper, so it was his habit to keep things brief when he was upset and talking with someone he liked. He said simply, “Afternoon, Irene.”

  Kennedy had been expecting and dreading this moment for some months. Normally Hurley would have greeted her with a warm hug and asked her how her mother was, but not this afternoon. She’d done an end around on him, and Stan Hurley did not like people going over his head for approval on something this serious. The chill in his mood was obvious, but still she pressed on, asking, “How are you feeling?”

  Hurley ignored her question and pointedly asked, “Who’s i
n the car?”

  “New recruit. Thomas told me he filled you in.” Kennedy was referring to their boss.

  Hurley’s eyes were shielded by the polarized lenses of his aviators. His head slowly swiveled away from the car toward Kennedy. “Yes, he told me what you were up to,” he said with obvious disapproval.

  Kennedy defensively folded her arms across her chest and said, “You don’t endorse my decision.”

  “Absolutely not.”


  “I don’t run a damn Boy Scout camp.”

  “Never said you did, Stan,” Kennedy said in a biting tone.

  “Then why the hell are you wasting my time sending me some titty-boy college puke who doesn’t know the difference between a gun and a rifle?”

  The normally stoic Kennedy allowed a bit of irritation to show. She was well aware of the special hold she had over Hurley, and a look of disapproval on her part was far more potent than a direct attack.

  Hurley looked down at her and could see she was unhappy with him. He didn’t like that one bit. It was the same with his own daughters. If one of his boys had so much as looked at him sideways he would have knocked him on his ass, but the girls had the ability to get past all his defenses. Get inside him and create doubt. Still, on this issue, he knew he was right, so he held his ground. “Don’t make this personal, Irene. I’ve been at this a long time, and I know what I’m doing. I don’t need you going over my head and then coming down here and dumpin’ some untested rookie in my lap.”

  Kennedy stood sphinxlike, refusing to yield her position.

  Hurley took a drag from his cigarette and said, “I think you should save us all the headache and get back in your car and take him back to wherever you found him.”

  Kennedy was surprised by the genuine resentment she felt. She’d been working on this for more than a year. Her analysis and her instincts told her Rapp was just the man they were looking for, yet here she was being dismissed like some complete neophyte who had no understanding of what they were trying to accomplish. Kennedy slowly climbed the porch steps and squared off with Hurley.

  The veteran backed up a bit, obviously uncomfortable with someone whom he wouldn’t dare lay a hand on entering his personal space. “I got a lot of work to take care of this afternoon, Irene, so the sooner you get back in the car, the better off we’ll all be.”

  Kennedy squared her shoulders and in a tight voice asked, “Uncle Stan, have I ever disrespected you?”

  “That’s not what this is—”

  “It’s exactly what it’s about. What have I done to you that has caused you to hold me in such low regard?” She inched closer.

  Hurley’s feet began to shuffle. His face twisted into a scowl. “You know I think the world of you.”

  “Then why do you treat me as if I’m still a teenager?”

  “I don’t think you’re incompetent.”

  “You just think I should stick to analysis and leave the recruiting and training to you.”

  He cleared his throat and said, “I think that’s a fair statement.”

  Kennedy put her hands on her hips and stuck out her chin. “Do me a favor and take off your sunglasses.”

  The request caught Hurley off guard. “Why?”

  “Because I know your Achilles’ heel, and I want to see your womanizing eyes when I tell you what someone should have told you a long time ago.”

  Hurley cracked a smile in an attempt to brush her off, but she told him again to take his glasses off. Hurley reluctantly did so.

  “I respect you,” Kennedy said, “in fact I might trust you more with my life than anyone in this world. You are unquestionably the best man to whip these operatives into shape … but there’s one problem.”

  “What’s that?”

  “You’re myopic.”


  “Yep. I’m not sure you really understand the type of person we’re looking for.”

  Hurley scoffed as if the idea was preposterous.

  “That’s right, and you’re too stubborn to see it.”

  “I suppose you think the Special Operations Group just showed up one day. Who do you think trained all those guys? Who do you think selected them? Who do you think turned them into the efficient, badass killing machines that they are?”

  “You did, and you know that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about our third objective.”

  Hurley frowned. She knew right where to hit him. He quietly wondered if Stansfield had put her up to this and said, “You think this shit’s easy? You want to take over running this little operation?”

  Kennedy shook her head and smiled in amazement. “You know, for a tough guy, you’re awfully thin-skinned. You sound like one of those damn desk jockeys back at Langley who run their section as if they were some Third World dictator.”

  She might as well have hit him in the gut with a two-by-four. Hurley stood there speechless.

  “You’ve created a cult of personality,” Kennedy continued. “Every single recruit is you twenty to thirty years ago.”

  “And what’s wrong with that?”

  “Nothing, if you’re talking about our first two objectives.” Kennedy held up one finger. “Training operatives with the skills to get down and dirty if they have to and,” she held up a second finger, “creating a highly mobile tactical assault team, but when it comes to the third,” she shook her head, “we’re still at the starting gate.”

  Hurley didn’t like hearing this, but he was not some unaware idiot. He knew what he’d been tasked to do, and he was acutely aware that he had so far failed to make any progress on the most delicate of the three programs. Still, it wasn’t in him to cede the point so easily. “I can teach anyone how to kill. That’s easy. You point the weapon, you pull the trigger, and assuming you can aim … bam, a piece of lead enters the target’s body, hits a vital organ, and it’s done. If you’ve got big enough balls I can teach you to slide a knife through a guy’s armpit and pop his heart like a balloon. Fuck … I can show you a thousand ways to punch someone’s ticket. I can teach you battlefield techniques until I’m blue in the face…”

  “But?” Kennedy asked prodding him in the direction she knew he was headed.

  “Turning a man into what we’re looking for,” Hurley stopped and shook his head, “it just ain’t that easy.”

  Kennedy sighed. This was the opening she was looking for. Touching Hurley’s arm she said, “I’m not saying it is, which is why you have to start trusting the rest of us to do our jobs. I have brought you a gift, Stan. You don’t realize it right now because you think a guy has to go through boot camp before he’s ready to have a run at your selection process, and normally I would agree with you, but this is different. You’re just going to have to let go of some of your control issues for a bit. What I have in that car is exactly what you’ve been looking for, Stan. No bad habits that’ll take you months to undo. None of that stiff military discipline that makes all these guys stand out like a sore thumb when we dump them into an urban setting.”

  Hurley glanced at the car.

  “He’s off the charts on all of our tests,” Kennedy added. “And he’s yours for the shaping.”

  With a deep frown Hurley studied what little he could see of this raw lump of coal that Kennedy was about to dump in his lap.

  “That is,” Kennedy said, “if you can swallow your pride and admit that the little girl you used to bounce on your knee is all grown up and just might be better at spotting talent than you.”

  Checkmate, Hurley thought to himself. I’m stuck with this puke. At least for a few days until I can figure out how to make him quit. “Fine,” he said with a defeated tone. “But no special favors. He pulls his weight just like everyone else or he’s gone.”

  “I don’t expect any favors, but” Kennedy said, pointing a finger at his face, “I am going to be very upset if I find out you singled him out and gave him some of your famous extra love and attention.”

y digested her words and then gave her a curt nod. “Fine … I’ll do it your way, but trust me, if I so much as get a whiff of weakness—”

  “I know … I know,” she said, robbing him of the final word. “You’ll make him wish he’d never met you.” Kennedy had pushed it as far as she was willing for the moment. Rapp would simply have to show the crotchety old bastard what she already knew. “I have to head over to the Farm to take care of something. I’ll be back for dinner.” She turned to head back to the car and over her shoulder she yelled, “And he’d better look no worse for the wear than the other six, or you’re going to have one very unhappy niece on your hands.”


  RAPP watched Kennedy drive away, his heavy, oversized lacrosse duffel bag hanging at his side. The scene was a bit surreal. It brought back memories of being dropped off at summer camp when he was nine and watching his mom drive off. Just like today, he had gone of his own free will, but this time there were no tears in his eyes. Back then he’d been a boy afraid of the unknown. Today he was a twenty-three-year-old man ready to take on the world.

  As the car drove down the lane, Rapp could feel the weight of his decision. A door was closing. He had picked one path over another and this one was undoubtedly the one less traveled. It was overgrown and more treacherous than his imagination could do justice to, but then again his youthful self felt invincible and was filled with schemes to cheat death. He would undoubtedly be pushed to quit, but he was confident that would not happen. He’d never quit anything in his life, and he’d never wanted anything anywhere near as bad as he wanted this. Rapp knew the score. He knew how his chain would be yanked and jerked every which way and he would be forced to endure all of it. The prize at the end was what it was all about, though, and he was willing to endure all of it for his chance.

  Rapp could feel the man’s eyes on him. He let his heavy bag fall to the ground and watched him come closer. The man with the ‘stache and the sunglasses blocked his view of the long driveway. Rapp instantly smelled the acid mix of coffee and cigarettes on his breath. He wanted to take a step back, but didn’t want to appear to be backing down, so he stayed put and breathed through his mouth.